What to See: The Kidnapper’s Guide

Yesterday I had the pleasure of watching a new production by fellow drama graduate, writer and director Joe White.

Needless to say, the show was an utter riot and, at an Edinburgh Festival friendly running time of 60 minutes, packed a hilarious punch.

Rather than give too much away, I thought I’d drop Joe a line and ask him to answer a few questions and let you know why you should catch the show while you can.

I’ve heard that the Kidnappers’ Guide wasn’t the original production that you were planning to take to Edinburgh. What happened, and how did you get the current show on the road, so to speak?

You heard right. If everything had ‘gone to plan’, then The Kidnapper’s Guide would never of existed. Or, at least, not existed in this time and place. We were originally planning to take an adapted version of Joseph Kesselring’s Arsenic and Old Lace (which was closer to the Frank Capra/Cary Grant classic film than it was the original play) to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. All was sorted: we had a strong cast, we had a funny script, we had a venue (Zoo’s Monkey House), we were in the printed fringe programme and we had great accommodation. We couldn’t go wrong!

And then, on the 17th July, I got a very unwelcome phone call.

“Hello. Is this Joe White?”, the voice said.


“I’m calling from Joseph Weinberger”


“Are you taking Arsenic and Old Lace to the Fringe this year?”


“No you’re not.”

And that was that. It was difficult. There had been complications and mass miscommunications between us and Joseph Weinberger (who own the rights to Kesselring’s play), where adaptation rights had not been properly cleared or accepted. We were denied permission to adapt and we were denied permission to perform. We were due to perform in exactly 19 days.

Luckily, I am blessed with the most talented, enthusiastic and inspirational cast, and the best producer and co-writer in Nathan Teckman, who just so happens to be the funniest people on the planet, and, after a day or so of absolute, sheer, blind panic and a desperate battle cry, there was a call to arms, and we fought back the only way we know how – and made a play.

In terms of both structure and plotlines, how did you seek and discover inspiration for the show?

Within a week of losing Arsenic, we had arranged a three-day character workshop and began working on ideas – collecting and montaging scenes scribbled during lectures or from notes or after day dreams – and came together to start creating The Kidnapper’s Guide. Loosely based (and I mean LOOSELY – we don’t need any more rights aggravation) on the 1967 flop film The Happening (none of us have seen the film past the trailer because it is truly awful), we decided to work on an Arsenic-esque farce that was about kidnapping’s that go awry.

We did our research by watching classic farces: His Girl Friday, Harvey, Some Like It Hot, Bringing Up Baby etc. and we started collecting farcical techniques and structural frameworks (frantic entrances and exits, mass human traffic, secrets, disguises etc). These films all pretty much subscribe to fairly similar formulae – there is usually a reluctant hero, a love interest, a kooky relative or friend, a flawed villain – and, armed with a canon of classics and some great character and plot outlines, Nathan and I entered a week of writing and laughing.

 You had a cast in place for a different show, how did you redistribute roles amongst your cast for the eventual performance?

Writing for 12 actors was a blessing and a curse. The cast themselves started to sculpt their characters in the workshops, so, even when away from the rehearsal room, we could imagine every detail, physical or vocal, of their creations (and we fully credit the actors in this collaborative process) and therefore knew the strengths of all involved. The Kidnapper’s Guide spans many comic genres and, knowing and working as closely with the actors as we do, it was simple to tailor to their own humours, tone and physicalities. The problem, however, lay in writing 12 parts and giving opportunities and scope for all of the actors to play and expand on ideas. However, the process of division and balancing roles was, after initial fears, actually fairly easy. The actors, their suitability to a certain role, and the roles subsequent place in the play actually evolved organically – everyone just kind of fell in to place – and after some early adjustments, we felt as though we had given everyone enough to sink their teeth into and just enjoy. I think that, in writing an ensemble comedy, it is crucial to give everyone at least one REALLY good line or bit and give every actor their share of the laughs. This sounds shallow perhaps, but it is true, and I think it works for exciting and layered characterisation and happy, confident and enthusiastic actors, which is probably paramount in performance.

 Who will the show appeal to and why should they make the effort to come and see it?

The Kidnapper’s Guide was not created for any specific age group, gender or personality. Without any crudeness or any sanitised-for-family-feel, we take the comic heroes of the past and, with modern touches, pull them into the present, concentrating on good, pure fun and respecting ‘funny’ first and foremost. All we care about is filling the room with laughter – whether they are the laughs of grandparents or grandchildren – and simply entertaining all who visit.

The Courtyard Theatre is a wonderful independent theatre and one which thrives on giving opportunities to aspiring writers, performers and companies like ours. It is a venue and organisation which should be celebrated and revered. The Courtyard is a breeding ground for the new and the unearthed and, almost pulsating with energy, the theatre reverberates an excitement through it’s theatre-makers and theatre-goers alike. It is the perfect home for The Kidnapper’s Guide, and the perfect place for you to see it!

What would you personally like to achieve in the next 5 years?

Being alive would do! I don’t exactly have a five year plan – I have hopes and aspirations of course, but remembering mice and men (the proverb, not the book) and all that, for now, I want to just keep writing whenever I can – predominantly for theatre, but also expanding to television comedy and film at some point – and hope to move into direction through my writing. My first full length play Phoenix is currently under scrutiny here and there, and I hope to see that someday – it took a bit longer than a week to write. Theatres such as The Bush, The Royal Court and Theatre 503, whose lifeblood is new writing are my ideal. But I want to keep options open. Beggars can’t be choosers. And I don’t want to be a beggar. And I’m nearly am a beggar. So, in answer to the question, I’d say either missing, presumed dead, or the Artistic Director of The Royal Court.

The Kidnapper’s Guide is on at The Courtyard Theatre from the 13th – 17th September at 8pm, Tickets cost £10 (£8 Concessions)

For further information, please contact Joe White on joemarkwhite@gmail.com


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